Sedan merely a stopgap model for Cadillac
IF 19th-century writer Charles Dickens was alive and well and penning about cars today, he’d no doubt title his review of the new Cadillac XTS as A Tale of Two Cadillacs.
On one hand, the new-this-year, fullsized sedan tries to keep traditional Cadillac buyers in the fold. At the same time, the XTS attempts to lure customers who may not yet be cashing Canada Pension cheques.
Technically, the 2013 XTS replaces the decrepit Cadillac DTS, an aging, front-wheel-drive barge that had been around since 1996 and was bought by only 227 Canadians (out of a total of more than 7,500 Cadillacs sold) in 2011, its last year on sale here.
Seemingly to save parent General Motors a few development dollars — and unlike the rear-wheel-drive compact ATS or mid-sized CTS sedan — the full-sized XTS shares its front- or allwheel-drive platform with more plebeian GM four-doors, namely the Buick LaCrosse and new 2014 Chevrolet Impala. All three ride on an enlarged version of GM’s Epsilon II global platform. (The XTS and Impala are built on the same production line in GM’s Oshawa, Ont., plant).
Because all-wheel-drive is a musthave for most luxury-car buyers in Canada, like the LaCrosse, traction at all four wheels is optional on the XTS sedan. But my $60,815 2013 Cadillac XTS tester (price includes $10,175 in options and a $1,650 freight and predelivery inspection charge) was a frontwheel-drive version. It had the same 3.6-litre six-cylinder gas engine mated to the same six-speed automatic transmission, producing the same 300 horsepower and 264 pound-feet of torque as its Chevy and Buick cousins.
Unlike other so-called flagship sedans, there’s no V8 option on the XTS menu, which is probably just fine with the few returning DTS buyers at whom the new XTS seems targeted. While the V6 delivers decent acceleration (zero to 100 km/h takes 6.8 seconds) and fueleconomy numbers (I saw an as-tested 9.8 L/100 average), there’s almost none of the sportiness new-age Cadillacs — such as the 2013 ATS 3.6L AWD — exude.
The XTS’s steering is one-fingerlight and not very communicative with what’s going on down at road level. Counter to rock-solid German rivals, the Cadillac’s body structure feels loosey-goosey, with any bad pavement being felt and heard by passengers.
And while Cadillac spouts on about the XTS being equipped with the brand’s excellent Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers and a rear air suspension, the ride and handling balance doesn’t deliver ATS-like athletic driving dynamics. Yet the ride is so firm, it also fails as a quiet, comfortable cruiser on anything less than perfect pavement.
So the new XTS won’t inspire its owners to book a trip to Germany to flog it around the Nurburgring racetrack. Fair enough. But in an attempt to keep up with the gadget-laden competition, Cadillac designers have gone overboard in making the interior ergonomics of the XTS potentially confusing for traditional DTS customers.
Like the Impala and LaCrosse, the XTS offers a roomy and comfortable interior — rear legroom is particularly generous. But while there’s plenty of leather-covered-this and chrometrimmed-that, the Cadillac User Experience (or CUE) system is hard to use, no matter what age you are.
While some automakers have tried to reduce the number of centre-dash buttons via a central controller, the CUE system has almost as many buttons as a conventional design. Most frustrating is the fact the buttons are inconsistent in their use. At times, I had to make several attempts to activate the haptic — a tactile feedback technology that senses touch — buttons. The centredash screen — which contains many of the basic audio and climate controls that would normally be handled by a few knobs — is also a long reach away.
A week driving the sedan only cemented a sense of the XTS’s conundrum. Unlike new-age models such as the ATS and CTS, the XTS is a throwback to old-school Cadillacs, where comfort and features were more important than great driving characteristics. But in an attempt to be hip with the younger crowd, the XTS’s CUE system and quasi-sporty driving characteristics will be off-putting to returning DTS buyers.
The new Impala’s centre dash adds more conventional knobs and buttons, and is easier to use because of it. And therein lies perhaps the biggest hurdle for the new XTS: a lack of value.
Although Cadillac calls the new XTS its flagship sedan, it really isn’t. GM’s luxury brand has all but admitted the XTS is a stopgap model until a true, rear-wheel-drive flagship sedan (to compete with the likes of the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes-Benz S-class) arrives in a few years.
For about $5,000 less than the Cadillac sedan’s $48,995 base price, I can get a loaded 2014 Chevy Impala with the same powertrain, same interior room and the majority of the XTS’s luxury, convenience and safety features. If I were on a fixed income, I know which GM full-sized sedan I would buy.
The 2013 Cadillac XTS, above, and the Chevrolet Impala are built on the same production line in GM’s Oshawa, Ont., plant.